Tag Archives: Radical Parenting

Guest Post: Radical Parenting’s Vanessa Van Petten on how social networking saves teens from isolation

Vanessa Van Petten, creator of Radical Parenting, does what too few do: she gives teens a place to speak in their own voices. In particular, the teens at Radical Parenting offer parents insight and advice into adolescents and their culture.

Vanessa’s new book, Do I Get My Allowance Before Or After I’m Grounded?, comes out tomorrow. In it, she offers ways for parents to talk to and connect with their teens on a variety of hot-button topics, from sex and drugs to social networking.

To celebrate the release of the book, Vanessa offered Backward Messages an excerpt that touches on one of our core issues — goth culture, and the discrimination many goths face for choosing to stand apart stylistically from the mainstream. In this excerpt, a goth teen explains how she found community with fellow goths, thanks to a little help from the Internet:

Although we do address some of the negative affects of technology below, using it to try new things is not all bad. I have worked with teens who made YouTube videos for their favorite community service cause and went on to raise thousands of dollars from strangers that they never would have been able to reach had it not been for the Internet. Websites such as Score.org and TeenInk encourage teens to try new experiences with nonprofits online, writing poetry and starting their own businesses. The Internet can give teens opportunities and practice in areas they never dreamed possible. Take for example an experience I had with a 17-year-old Michelle. I was speaking at a rural school in Missouri about Internet safety. Actually, I refuse to call my technology talks to students “Internet Safety,” and prefer instead to call them “Internet Savvy” as I review both the good and the bad parts of technology. After my talk, a tall female student walked up to the podium.

“Thanks for that,” she said.

I looked up from my notes expecting to meet one of the many similar looking girls I had seen milling around the halls all morning—average skin tone, medium length hair, some kind of brightly colored sweater. Yet, when I glanced up, I gulped—loudly. “Tha—ahhnk you?” I cleared my throat, “Thank you I mean.”

She shrugged her leather-clad shoulder. “I mean usually people come here and talk about how awful and unsafe the Internet is, but for me, it saved my life.”

The girl in front of me had jet-black dreadlocks to her hips, more piercings than I could count, and dark black eye make-up caked over painted white skin and large spiked boots. A couple of the students who had been waiting to talk to me shuffled off upon seeing her. I reminded myself to have no expectations and smiled. “Wow, it saved your life? What do you mean? And what’s your name, by the way.” I put out my hand.

She shook it gently. “I’m Michelle and I’m a Goth. I always knew I was different. But I live here.” She gestured around the large auditorium and I looked at all of the students who—though I was sure were unique in their own ways, looked strikingly similar. “Everyone here is the same. It used to drive me crazy. I don’t do drugs or have sex. I’m a good girl. I go to church, but I really like to dress this way. I like gothic make-up and music. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t do anything bad because when I dress like this, people think I’m bad.”

“I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. How did the Internet help exactly?”

“When I was 13 I went on MySpace. It was the first time I realized not everyone was from Missouri.” She laughed, “You know what I mean. I knew that before. But I found people who were like me. People who loved gothic make-up and heavy metal music and they didn’t do drugs or anything. I finally started to feel like less of a freak. I felt like I was normal—different than people here, but normal somewhere.”

I had never thought about this aspect of identity searching before. “So, it actually gave you a community and self-esteem about who you are?”

She flashed me teeth that matched her white skin. “Self-esteem, don’t even get me started. Before the Internet, to be honest I was thinking about killing myself. I hated who I was and was tired of pretending. I met a girl in a gothic chat forum who convinced me not to take the pills I found in my Dad’s medicine cabinet.” She looked down at her spiked boots. “I might not be here now if it wasn’t for the Internet.” I often tell this story when I speak, not only to demonstrate the importance of accepting people for their differences, but also to address the fact that technology provides new access to both good and bad experiences.

There are also many technological programs that give teens access to new opportunities and information. Teens who live in rural areas with rare diseases or psychological problems are doing digital doctor visits with therapists or specialists in far away cities when they cannot afford to travel. Another company called the Birds and Bees Text Line, started in North Carolina, delivers sex education to teens via text message. They send questions to teens like, “If you have sex underwater do you need a condom?” Teens can also send in their questions like, “Why do guys think it’s cool to sleep with a girl and tell their friends?” which will be responded to in 24 hours or less. This is a new kind of sex education that not only delivers information they might not get elsewhere to stay safe, but also offers them an anonymous and safe way to ask questions they are worried about.

Vanessa Van Petten is the creator of RadicalParenting.com, a parenting website written from the teen perspective to help parents understand them. She is also the author of the parenting book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” Find out more about Vanessa and her new book in

Could video games have kept teen from killing great-grandmother, stabbing grandmother?


An Atlanta teen (not pictured) killed his great-grandmother and stabbed his grandmother with a sword after they kept him from playing the video game Halo. Photo by Flickr user Aidan.Morgan.

In the big debate over whether minors should play violent video games, there are parents who let them play, parents who don’t let them play, and parents who say it’s okay for a while — and then try to cut kids off from such games when they become a problem. We don’t know why an Atlanta 15-year-old’s family told him to stop playing Halo. What we do know is, most kids who are separated from their video games don’t get so angry that they kill. One did.

Douglas County sheriff’s officials say the teenager used a 36-inch sword to stab his grandmother, 55-year-old Laura Prince, in the arm and to kill his great-grandmother, 77-year-old Mary Joan Gibbs.

Officers arrived at the home Monday afternoon and found the grandmother barricaded inside a room and the great-grandmother lying lifeless in the front yard, Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller said.

The teen was standing in the doorway with what officers described as a full-sized sword and a pellet rifle, Miller said.

Officers used a stun gun to take the teen into custody after a standoff.

It turns out that this teen had already been evaluated twice after violent episodes, but was released. The question isn’t why was he allowed to play violent video games. The question is, why was he allowed access to a sword and a pellet gun? I doubt very much that question will be answered during the teen’s murder trial.

In the realm of the everyday, parents struggle with what to let their kids play. One San Diego mom said she doesn’t like her 9-year-old son playing violent video games. However, she works long hours and can’t supervise him at home. Fair enough. For child care, she’s relying on her brothers — who spend all their time playing video games. Not a great situation for a mom with her values, right?

Unfortunately, the article, from Latin in America, uses this tale as a springboard for a cornucopia of random, unfounded claims about video games. It starts by referring to an unnamed study that found that by age 21, boys have played some 10,000 hours of video games (and then calls this an “addiction”). If boys begin playing at 5, as the article suggests, that’s 16 years of gameplay. 16 years contain more than 140,160 hours. 10,000 hours is 14 percent of that — a little more than 3 hours a day. That’s not nothing, but it’s not “addiction” levels by any means.

The article goes on. Allowing kids to explore aggression and violence in a consequence-free way “sends the wrong message,” it claims — despite the fact that many teen gamers appreciate that opportunity. And it ends by warning parents that “video games are the new tools of sex predators.” What the?

Thankfully, there have been some voices from the other side of the fence recently. Let’s start with Chris Martucci at What Blag?, who offers “In Defense of Call of Duty”. Martucci takes on the idea that video games are the cause of real-life violence by pointing out:

1. As Lewis-Hasteley states, as popular as violent video games are, bad people are bound to play them at some point.

2. There is no “violent gene” or unitary “violent part of the brain.” Certain emotions are associated with certain parts of the brain, which are thus associated with violence. There is therefore no simple way to prevent your child from becoming an axe-murderer with Gattaca-style eugenics. What I mean to say is this: if violent video games are merely associated with something that is associated with violence, how much is that really worth to us?

Bad people play these very popular games, just as bad people go to church, drive cars, eat at McDonald’s, watch sports on television, swim in the ocean, have children, and breathe. We wouldn’t blame any of those other behaviors on violence, so why gaming?

Over at Reason.com, Peter Suderman extends his own defense of video games, again citing the dropoff in real-life violence that has coincided with the rise of violent video games. As with all data on video games to date, this is correlational — there’s no way to determine whether one caused the other. However, boredom and free time are frequently cited as reasons for juvenile delinquency, and, as Mike Ward has discovered, kids who are busy playing video games aren’t bored.

In general, it pays to listen to kids themselves. Over at Radical Parenting, 16-year-old gamer Monique shares her love of violent games as a way of safely exploring, expressing, and purging anger.

The media is so quick to jump on violent video games being the cause of aggression, however never stops to think that maybe a violent video game can help lesson aggression. When asked if he thought violent video games caused anger and aggression 16-year-old Edwin McGuffin replied by saying, “No, I don’t. I find that video games actually help reduce it. When I get mad I just jump on my Xbox instead of taking it out on others.”

What if that Atlanta teen had been playing Halo that day, rather than taking up his weapons in anger?

Frightened By Your Teen’s Interests? Get Involved!

Just picture it: you’re dressed in black lace with cat’s-eye makeup, dancing in a dark, misty club to something called Switchblade Symphony. Or you’re in a surging hurricane of dancing bodies at a concert while a dude onstage screams into a microphone, lyrics unintelligible. Or you’re dressed in a cape, running through a park with a foam sword while 10 teenagers chase you. Can you imagine it yet?

For decades, certain media influences have been linked again and again to violent or suicidal behavior in teens. Reporters would have you believe that too many first-person shooters cause high-school massacres like the one at Columbine High School, or that becoming a Wiccan will make your kid start sacrificing chickens to Beelzebub. Meanwhile, heavy metal and goth culture have reputations as one-way roads to suicide, and role-playing games supposedly turn players into Satanic lunatics who see dragons on every street corner.

Yes, I’m exaggerating – but only a little.

Read the rest over at Radical Parenting

Listening to teens, for a change


Photo by Flickr user Mavis.

“Because teenage years are one of the most stressful times in a person’s life, having the ability to escape with the aid of music is extremely important to myself as well as many other teens,” a young writer named Alexa wrote recently at the Radical Parenting blog. “There are various genres to fit any taste and mood you are feeling and songs that can relate to nearly anything you are going through. Lyrics can often resonate with a person’s situation and even help them find their identity.”

For decades, a segment of the adult, “responsible” world has railed against heavy-metal music. This genre is one of the most suspect: some people think it’s capable of making teens commit violence against themselves or others, or of leading teens into evil. By contrast, author Jeffrey Jensen Arnett found that metal soothes some teens’ souls, particularly those with a high need for intensity. Unlike many adults, Arnett actually asked teens why they like the music so much, and then he listened to their answers.

And yet, teen metal fans still feel like their favorite music is misunderstood, so the war isn’t over yet. Alisa Boswell, a young New Mexico woman, recently wrote a piece for the Portales News-Tribune asking people to give heavy metal a chance:

There is a very distinct passion and creativity to heavy metal music that I am admiring more each time I hear it. And let’s face it, whether you like it or not, you can’t beat the instrumentals in heavy metal. You don’t get more variety than that.

If you have an appreciation for music but don’t care too much for metal, I highly recommend giving it a chance. If you appreciate music, you will appreciate heavy metal instrumentals and lyrics (if maybe not the screaming).

Another teen girl recently wrote to teen advice columnist Dr. Robert Wallace to convince him metal isn’t so bad:

Their lyrics are very deep; it’s a definite form of poetry. Such issues as conformity and human biases are explored, and the songs are sung with passion, not merely blind anger. In my friend’s valedictory speech, he actually quoted from a heavy metal song. (His speech was about thinking for yourself rather than letting others do it for you.) It was an excellent speech and the quote fit perfectly; no one would have been able to guess that his “modern poet” was, in fact, Metallica.

It’s easy to believe that teens are young and so malleable that the wrong message can lead them astray. The teens I’ve talked to are anything but; they know what they need psychologically, and they know what they can and can’t handle. And exploring those boundaries is important work. Sure, a parental guiding hand now and then doesn’t hurt. But kids know what they’re doing.

A question for readers today: Did your parents question the content of your favorite teen music? What did they say? How did you respond to that? Do you think, in hindsight, that you were right — or were they right?